Absolute Indian features South Indian cookery courses and occasional themed supper clubs. South Indian fare is very varied and quite different from the cooking of Northern India and the food from the state of Kerala, where I come from, holds its own elegance and style in its techniques, preparation and flavours. To those unsure how Keralan cuisine differs, think along the lines of coconuts, curry leaves and mustard seeds and your senses will move a step closer to the fragrant food that hails from this region.
I set up Absolute Indian cookery courses with a hope to enable others to revel in the traditions, culture and food of Kerala. I am based in Hertfordshire but courses are also run in London and Bristol. The courses are run and managed by me, but when necessary I employ freelance specialists within my local area. All courses are sold through the website and a couple of other sites I am linked with. The Spice Boutique products I sell are available on Amazon and EBay.
I had no prior experience in running a business and had previously worked in secondary schools teaching Business and Economics alongside a number of management roles. Although I have had no formal training for my new foodie life, I strongly believe that the skills I developed as a teacher were fundamental to my ability to set up my new business.
My love for cooking began at a very young age and although I was brought up on Keralan food, my real passion was stirred as a result of spending almost two years at home being a full time mother. Suddenly I had the opportunity to truly explore the food I had once easily dismissed as being the ‘norm’ in our household.
Obviously my background in classroom teaching lent itself well to the cookery courses and time management, organisation and planning were also vital attributes that I was able to transfer to my new foodie world. I needed training in areas such as Food Safety, Health & Safety and website development, amongst other things, all of which I learned along the way. I believe that in life training and learning are never over!
I often feel that people underestimate the value of people skills and the ability to communicate effectively with colleagues and associates regardless of hierarchy or status. Teaching and management within secondary education equipped me with so many of these skills which are invaluable when working with customers, colleagues and partners; treat others how you want to be treated, regardless of who you are dealing with.
Initially I conducted market research locally into potential consumers, competitors and available kitchens for hire and then participated in a number of demonstrations, food shows and festivals. Not long after that I began to run private and group courses which I continued when I returned to work after my maternity leave. During this time, I was able to explore and streamline my options and also evaluate what was likely to work well from a business perspective.
I also established a Keralan supperclub, providing me with the opportunity to trial recipes and gain instant feedback from my guests all of which contributes towards key future goals I have.
As I was hiring a kitchen for my courses, there was little financial outlay in comparison to setting up a fully furnished school itself. Furthermore, customers paid for their courses prior to attending therefore making it much easier to manage cashflow. I controlled expenditure as much as possible so I created my own website and paid for hosting, shopped around for kitchen equipment and designed my own copy for any local advertising I did. With hindsight, there are some decisions I regret and which cost me more in the long run but I guess that’s all part of the learning process.
The most challenging aspect of setting up my business was being responsible for everything from marketing and finance to customer relations and website management. I had no strict finishing time and gave myself a hard time for not finishing my to-do lists. I soon rebooted myself into prioritising, being disciplined with distractions and most importantly, allowing some time away. This is the time I found to be most productive in terms of personal reflection and thinking creatively, both of which are so important to what I do.
Many assume that all curry lovers would enjoy attending a class but the truth is that although a large percentage of the British population enjoy Indian food, many don’t enjoy cooking it. Those who attend my courses are usually those whose appetites are no longer satisfied with the Indian food on offer in shops and restaurants and are in search of recipes and dishes that are true to their origin. Others may have visited Kerala and other regions in South India, and are seeking to replicate the culinary experience theyhave enjoyed on their holidays. Almost a quarter of visitors to Kerala originate from the UK and this is trend set to continue in the future as knowledge and education about this part of India grows. This is a prime area of the market that I would like to engage with in order to allow them to continue to connect with the ‘different’ India they experienced.
I am a fully-fledged social media user and believer for a number of reasons: social media provides a networking opportunity on a local and national level, allows me to interact with my potential and existing clients and, for someone who is self-employed and a sole trader, it provides me with interaction and information from others who are in a similar role to me. On my website there is a recipe blog which features a new recipe once a month. I also send out a newsletter once every couple of months to those on my mailing list.
At the moment, I am working on developing my knowledge and skills within the food industry. Part of this includes working in partnership with established cookery schools as well showcasing some of my recipes through various media channels. Through hard work and perseverance I hope to see Keralan cuisine as an important part of the Indian food offering in Britain.
To those contemplating setting up an artisanal food business I would say that it’s very hard work, especially in the current economic climate. However, if you are passionate about what you do, true to yourself and your business, you will enjoy the ride, no matter how much turbulence there is. Be careful and frugal with money and that’s not just at the beginning. Always question and take time over your choices: refrain from making hasty decisions that you will regret later.
Sheba Promod of Absolute Indian Cookery Classes
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